Saree; an unstitched garment, sensuous and glamorous wear for women of all ages. I feel it is one of the most flattering forms of attire and can make a woman look and feel beautiful. No matter what the weave, the fabric, the colour, the effect is the same. It is six yards of grace, charm and elegance.
Not only for the wearer, for the creator too the saree experience is enriching and creatively satisfying. A saree provides the creator with a broad canvas to weave their magic into it. The process is long and arduous from preparing the yarn to getting the finished piece ready, but this process leads to the six-yard wonder. The canvas allows the weaver to weave artistic weaves and prints in alluring designs and colours. The sheer expanse of a saree enables the weaver to let their imagination aim for the skies. They can weave all the magic that they want to.
The wearer always has to remember that weaving this magic is not easy at all. It is a lot of hard work requiring hours of patient work and effort, especially in the handloom sarees. Each creation is a work of art and so needs to be given that respect and admiration.
The word saree is described in Sanskrit as Sati, which means a strip of cloth and Sadi in Pali which has evolved to saree in modern Indian languages. It is referred to as Sattika in Sanskrit literature, which means a woman’s attire. Saree is an important part of the Indian culture and there is every reason to preserve it, cherish it.
We can trace the history of the garment back to the Indus Valley Civilisation which came into being during 2800-1800 BC. The saree’s journey began with cotton, and after that, other kinds of fabrics also came to be used to make this alluring garment.
For me, Saree is a garment, a drape that I am in love with and have been all my life. I can wear it anytime, anywhere. I find it to be super comfortable and something which adds elegance and grace to my persona. The drape, the fall all ensure that. The entire concept of the saree from the various kinds of them, to the weaves, the weft and the warp, the fabric, the colours all fascinate me. And no matter what I can never get tired of wearing them.
The earliest recollection that I have of wearing a saree is when I was probably nine or ten years of age. I was part of the school choir and had to wear a saree for a function. The saree was the traditional red and cream Lal-Par borrowed from one of my mother’s friends. Since I was just a kid, my mom had to fold it in almost half so that I could wear it. She also had to organize a blouse and a petticoat to go with it. I also remember that I had to wear jewellery matching with the saree and I was thrilled to bits about it. For days after the function, I continued to gloat in the newfound experience of acting and feeling like a grown-up.
After that, though not very often, I would prefer to wear a saree over all other forms of attire whenever I could. So whether there was a wedding in the family, a school/college farewell, my first choice was a saree. I would open my mom’s closet and pick up the one that I caught my eye and was ready to go.
From a red and green Kanjivaram for a farewell to a deep blue Patola for a friend’s wedding to a rust Mysore silk for a college function, I draped all of them with love and a lot of care. There was one thing that my mother was absolutely paranoid about. And that was me dropping anything on the saree that could leave a stain. So though I had the liberty to choose any saree from her collection, I had to be very careful while eating or drinking anything, a habit that has stayed with me.
The more I wore the saree, the more comfortable I became with it. Though in the initial years, I had to seek my mother’s help to drape it gradually, I acquired the required expertise and could drape it on my own with considerable ease and comfort.
As luck would have it somewhere because sarees were supposed to become an integral part of my life, I chose a profession where this was the attire most preferred by everyone.
I chose to teach in a college, which is when sarees became a regular feature of my life and continue to be so till date.
Starting from when I started appearing for job interviews till today, the journey has been an ongoing and pleasurable one.
In those days, a saree was considered to be an appropriate form of attire while appearing for a job interview, especially in the space of teaching. Therefore when I decided to enter this profession, the first step was to get hold of a few sarees with the right blouses. Though initially, I borrowed my mother’s sarees; with time, I started buying my own. It was at this time, that I really started focusing on the garment and what all needed to be done to make it look beautiful.
It was my mother who helped me do that. Thanks to her, I started paying attention to details like the blouse, the fall, the petticoat and accessories to go with a saree. My mother explained how even the most beautiful saree could look horrible if the blouse is not well fitted, well-matched. She made me understand that the cut, the fit and the fabric of the blouse have to be paid a lot of attention. And yes she was the one to initiate me into wearing smart, sexy blouses with low backs.
Even though my profession may cause people to not venture into the sexy blouse space, I chose not only to venture but become a permanent resident. It has become my signature style which I carry with aplomb.
My mother would also always insist that the petticoat though not a visible part of the ensemble was something that was equally important. It had to be well-fitted, apart from everything else. She hated the idea of buying readymade ones which had a few standard sizes. She was all about getting them tailored. I too did that for many years but not any longer as now there are excellent options in readymades as well.
I also learned from her that my wardrobe must contain sarees from different parts of the country. She felt that since we have such a rich and vibrant textile heritage, we should not ignore it. It was she who initiated me into the world of handloom sarees, and I got to know that there are more than thirty types of handloom sarees available in India. She would make sure that we would focus on different States of India whenever we went saree shopping. Living in Delhi made it easier as we had access to the various State emporia, the Cottage emporium, various exhibitions and fairs. I still remember one particular one called TexIndia, which as the name suggests focused on textiles and sarees from different parts of India. We used to go there every year without fail. The two of us would hunt all the places till we found what we were looking for. The colours, the weaves, the patterns, the fabric were all paid a great deal of attention. It would take time, but the entire process would be extremely rewarding, and we would come back with some real beauties.
One thing that I learnt from the saree buying experience was, which still holds is that there is no instant gratification where a saree is concerned. You go shopping, you love a saree, you pick it up, but you have to wait before you can wear it. You have to figure out the blouse, the petticoat and the saree fall before you can actually flaunt it. So a lot of patience is required.
Over the years, my love for the garment has only grown. I have discovered so much more about sarees and so many more types of them. As a result, be it any occasion, I have a saree option. Today my wardrobe boasts of sarees of all kinds from the traditional ones to the sexy, sassy ones. Any formal occasion, a festival, and I will pull out the heavy silks, the Kanjivarams, the Banarsis, the Gadwals, the Chanderis. A cocktail or an evening out and my Chantilly sarees, my Satins and Crepes are out. And yes, then there is my work where summers are all about cottons and linens and winters is printed silks and lighter softer silks.
So a saree for every season and every reason!
Along with discovering new kinds of weaves and patterns which have enriched my wardrobe, there is a trend that I see emerging around me which I find disturbing. I see that many people have given up on wearing sarees for various reasons. The reasons as I understand, are just myths and beliefs which need to be dispelled.
One of the popular myths is that wearing a saree is a time-consuming affair. I feel that this is largely a mindset. Anything that we are not used to will take some time, that’s for sure. But if initially, we spend time learning how to wear this garment, the result will be well worth it. I feel the grace and the elegance which a saree can provide is worth the extra five minutes. This is especially concerning the work scenario. I have other options that I can wear to work, but any other form of attire cannot match the feeling that I get after wearing a saree. So is it time-consuming? Maybe the first few times, but after that, it isn’t, and the result is so much more pleasing and satisfying.
Practice will make a (wo)man perfect!!
Some people also feel that it is a traditional and ethnic form of attire. Yes, it is. But it isn’t just that. It is one of the most versatile garments that a woman can have in her wardrobe. It can look as traditional or as contemporary as you want it to. It’s in the way you accessorize it, wear it.
The traditional weaves, coupled with ethnic, traditional accessories can make one look as conventional and ethnic as possible.
And the modern look can be achieved similarly. Team up your saree with a halter, a backless or an off-shoulder, and the look is all contemporary and modern. It is the accessories and the blouse which make all the difference.
Nowadays you can do just about anything. You can wear a saree with a spaghetti, a crop top and the look is so different, so chic. Just a little bit of imagination, a bit of creativity and you can get the look you want. The trick is to experiment and be adventurous. Think out-of-the-box.
Even with a traditional saree, you can go fusion by wearing a halter, a bustier, an off-shoulder. They do it with a gown; we can do it with a saree and in a much better way.
Another myth which needs to be broken is how can a saree keep a person warm in winters. After almost thirty years of being in the teaching profession, my dears I can vouch for the fact that the way a sari can keep you warm, very few other garments can.
I have devised a fabulous way to keep me warm in a saree during the cold Delhi winters. I team up my silk sarees with a coat, a sweater, tights and long boots. With the pallu wrapped around my neck, I am as warm and snug as can be.
So go on, women, wear this beautiful garment and look beautiful.
One factor that has helped me in my saree journey is the city where I have lived most of my life. Delhi, with its various seasons, lets one enjoy every kind of saree. Starting from January, the different seasons enable one to wear all types, all textures. So if December and January are about silk and pashmina sarees with shawls, coats and boots, then immediately before and after these months the sheer joy of wearing a silk saree with a free-flowing pallu and a matching shawl is unparalleled. The slight hint of winter makes the experience extremely joyful.
And then there are the scorching hot summers when my cottons and linens rule the roost. Occasionally I pull out the chiffons and georgettes too.
In the cottons and linens too I have made a division. If the months of April, May and June are for the light coloured ones, the whites, the beiges, the soft pinks, blues, greens and the yellows, then the rain-soaked months of July and August are all about the darker versions of these colours with the blacks and the reds too joining in. The rainy season is also when I pull out my crepes.
Thus all my sarees get to be worn.
Over the years, my saree wearing has changed quite a lot .No longer do I wear matching blouses with a saree. I like to team them with a contrasting colour, say a yellow with a green, a black with a royal blue, a pink with a purple.
I also love accessorizing my sarees with beads or silver or gold and diamonds depending on the occasion.
I am all for promoting and encouraging the wearing of this beautiful garment, and thanks to social media, I have been able to do this quite easily. From being part of a 100 saree pact on Facebook to following various hashtag themes on Instagram, I have done it all and continue to do it. The latest step in this direction is my saree page on Instagram called Shari_Saree.
For me, a saree is a work of art, created with a lot of passion and love and that is why I feel it should be treated with respect and should occupy the pride of place in every woman’s wardrobe. And whats more by wearing a saree we can all do our bit in promoting our heritage, our culture as a saree is such an important part of the Indian culture.
vani kalraJanuary 4, 2021
Riveting post about a garment! Your writing style is immersive and tinged with humour. I will definitely come to you for advise on getting contemporary blouses for my traditional sarees and a draping class as well! 😉
Sangeeta RelanJanuary 4, 2021
Thank you my dear!! I would love to do that!!
Rajshri SenJanuary 4, 2021
Sangeeta, I always admire your beautiful sari collection and love the way you accessorise and carry it off with elan. I agree with you – a sari is the most elegant and graceful garment ever. I love wearing one though I have to admit I have gotten lazy of late. But when in doubt, it’s always the first garment of choice.
Sangeeta RelanJanuary 4, 2021
Thank you so much!!
Payal DhawanJanuary 5, 2021
The most sensual and demure garment of all. Sangeeta, your love for sarees comes through so beautifully in your article. What a lovely way to remember and pay tribute to your mom
Sangeeta RelanJanuary 5, 2021
Since you are a saree lover yourself you can so get my sentiments 😊😊
Priya SaxenaJanuary 5, 2021
I think the culture of wearing a saree needs to be revived. I have always admired the way you carry your sarees with your contemporary blouses … a good mix of tradition and modernity. As always, with its easy flow and a tinge of humour … reading your articles are a pleasure Sangeeta!
Sangeeta RelanJanuary 5, 2021
I so agree with you. We need to revive it. Thank you so much for your appreciation 💕
Praseeda WarrierJanuary 31, 2021
In college, I have always been an ardent fan of your sarees and the elegance with which you carry them..loved your article
Sangeeta RelanJanuary 31, 2021
Thank you so much ❤️